when worry wains

Oh hello, how you doing? Good weekend? Mine?  Well yes actually, this May bank holiday weekend was excellent because we did very little indeed.  And I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to talk about my weekend because look, few hundred more words down there.

When a guy in the pool mentioned the upcoming bank holiday I was annoyed. Really? There’s another bank holiday? We only just had Easter. I was mainly annoyed because bank holidays and weekends don’t tend to mean as much to me as they might to those in regular employment. I still feel the press to work, to go and sit at my desk if I’m not out of the house working. And because the bank holiday would present yet another obstacle to me being paid by various clients.

Getting paid remains one of the most infuriating things about freelance life. A job is never over when you have delivered the work. The job is only ever over when you see the money in your bank account, and sometimes not even then. Between those two things there can be weeks and months, endless emails and phone calls politely prompting and reminding with appropriate levels of levity and seriousness. It is a battle to maintain tight-lipped professionalism when conducting a simple online transaction can be the simplest thing in the world, and when these are never monstrously large sums.  Naturally they matter to me though. I make very little money and every few pounds matters to me.

It is this worry and stress about getting paid and not getting paid which you live with, day to day, your mental climate dictated by what those numbers in your bank accounts say, how many digits long they are, how much they are likely to plummet with further outgoings, bills, monthly business expenses, mortgage payments. They impact your esteem and ego. Having recently calculated your annual income, it is pathetic, paltry, embarrassing. You are plainly not successful.

And yet here you are, existing actually quite nicely. How does that work? You like your lifestyle, your house, your wife, your dog, your walks. Outside of worrying about money and work, the car screwing up, scrimping a bit, never going on holiday, most other things are all pretty good thanks.

-But do I deserve this? Have I earned it?

Please shut that shit up right now brain, just for a moment, just for a weekend. Relax and enjoy what you have.

Nobody said that outside my brain. It was something that seeped in gradually as we sat there in our quite nice conservatory, reading our books and drinking tea, rain flecking the windows, clouds flying overhead, the dog grumbling and sighing on the floor. Simple pleasures. We could have been 10, 20, 40 years older. But we are certainly not young-young now.

Although that itself presented the topic of discussion which forever bubbles away under the surface. Children.

Do we want them? The selfish knee-jerk rationale for ‘certainly not now anyway’ is my perpetual floundering sense of worry about work and finances. Bringing anything else into that equation would probably send me spiralling towards nervous breakdown, or at least more consistent fear and self-loathing. Either way, it would not be good. Would it?

Although a flipside might be that it occupies me better and makes me feel like I do have a purpose and reason and I am not an entirely useless semi-unemployed piece of shit. (Unless I am entirely useless at it, which is possible). It could also be ok to flexibly work around. We could work it out. Could we?

But we are happyish now, with this, with us, our fur baby down there. This is ok. It would all be terrifying, and who knows if we even could have kids? 40 is now closer than 30. We are not exactly in the bloom of youth.

You live with a dark premonition of profound regret in later life. Isolation too, having no family and nobody around you. In later years you might see your extended family – niece, nephew, brother – maybe once or twice a year at best? So, no support, nobody who really gives a shit in a country with a massive ageing population and an NHS which could by then be fully disintegrated. And what if one of us dies much earlier than the other?

We had those discussions, as we do. They come and go at almost tidal intervals. Mostly though we enjoyed the house, the rain, the dog, our books, pockets of peaceful unoccupied space in our brains usually occupied by worry and stress, Mozart filtering through from the other room, still somehow feeling faintly fake (is this really our life now?) but fuckit, day bleeding slowly into night, just being there together and not doing much. The dog groaned loud and long, turned over. We both looked at her, the beautiful embodiment of calming therapy, then at each other, smiled. For a time it was peaceful and meditative, to be cherished.

Worry will come back, of course it will. Stress, anxiety, nerves, all that; you can’t keep them at bay indefinitely. But you can effectively keep it at arm’s length for a time. It turns out, surprisingly, in the right circumstances you actually can.

Advertisements

in sickness and in health

The last couple of weeks have been strange and difficult. Middle of the night ultra-anxiety; big, unattractive belly-shaking tears of fear and panic; excessive contemplation of death: all that. And not my own death either. Her death.

She developed this horrible skin condition which is apparently quite common but I’d never heard of. Hives or urticaria. She had it chronically bad: red marks, weels and inflammation from the scalp of her head, up her neck, across her face, all the way across her body to the balls of her feet. It was horrific. Something was eating or at least mutating my wife.

She woke up in the middle of the night crying at the pain and discomfort. Utterly fucking terrified, I applied a cold towel compress and vacated the room, eliminating my own body heat from her irritation. I walked down the hall to the sofa where I sat, read everything I could find on the internet about this thing and cried myself to sleep.

Over the course of two weeks and fluctuating levels of distress and discomfort, we went back and forth to see GPs, and dermatologists at the hospital. I spent several consecutive nights on the sofa, battling manfully against a snotty cold, suffering massive worry, catastrophising hugely, drafting her funeral eulogy in my head, wondering what my life would be like after she died. I pictured myself walking a dog and that being enough. It wasn’t just in the middle of the night when I wondered about her dying. I thought about it all the time, this constant sinister ticking: butwhatifshedies? butwhatifshedies? butwhatifshedies?

I didn’t want to lose her. It took me a largely miserable decade of being a loner to find her. We are not long married and planning a future, thinking about buying a house, getting a mortgage, maybe even (finally) a dog, and possibly reproducing if we can.

Did she have fundamentally flaky genes, having lost her mother in middle age? Will she ultimately not make it past a similar stage before something strikes her down? Will health deny us the chance to grow old together, to become old people? I always wanted to become a properly old person. Nobody has that guarantee, I know – health and chance and anything at all can shit over your life for no good reason; but all the same I really hope we get old together.

At its worst, walking down the street and seeing old people would make me mildly upset. As would seeing babies and gleeful children. Would we be able to have them? Really? Would we ever be parents or would there be further medical complications?

She has complicated thyroid issues and Grave’s disease (not exactly a promising sort of name, even for a disease). This means she’s predisposed to the whole range of auto-immune disorders. You don’t want to go Googling that stuff. With urticaria, there’s a general dearth of medical knowledge and research. Also it’s idiopathic, so you might easily never know the cause of your outbreak, whatever you try and however you eliminate things from your diet or routine. (We’ve tried a lot). There are informed sounding medical blogs and self-published books by American sufferers, but little more.

Over the last day or two, since the last hospital visit, it has mercifully eased and we are back sleeping together. But the fear will probably never go. Take nothing for granted, try to enjoy every tiny nice moment. You never know, it might all be fine.

thought patterns

It’s not healthy to compare yourself with others all the time.  Focus on yourself.  Generally I try not to compare myself with all the other much more successful people of whom I’m crazily, bitterly envious.  Not too much.

There’s one person though, the constant subject, the permanent comparison, the guy my brain returns to in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, when the mind is ablur with a whole load of recurring, endlessly cycling nonsense.  Maybe it’ll be the first night in a while without the girlfriend, or the first night in a while without a drink.  The subject?  The guy?  My brother.  Yep, him again.  There’s probably tons here about him already, saying much the same.

They’re often the first people you ever really compare yourself against, your siblings.  Can I do that thing they’re doing?  Crawling, walking, running, kicking a ball.  Two and a half years my senior, we competed a lot as kids and I always lost and it always ate me and it still does.  He has remained better than me at pretty much everything and I have remained confused and angry at life, aged 33.

Going to school, teachers were prepared for another version of him, excited after the precocious headstrong whirlwind that had gone before.  But no, sorry.  I was the difficult experimental second album, the solid but largely underwhelming sequel, the convoluted and confusing follow-up.  I still feel like that’s how I’m perceived by people – regardless of whether they know my brother.

I don’t believe I’m entirely worthless.  On the contrary, I feel more capable than a lot of people at some stuff.  But I have no support now, so find myself floating, lost in space, unremarkable, missable, not especially employable, a terrified hostage to fortune.

We’re early teens, maybe I’m around 11 or 12 and he’s 13 or 14. He asks what I want to do in life, when I’m older, and I unthinkingly reply footballer or rock star, knowing neither is genuinely achievable. I have never demonstrated anything like the required talent , and am unlikely to. He replies, “oh, I’d hate to want to do something unrealistic that I could never do,” – or some such. It’s not malicious, just matter of fact.

I still feel a similar disappointment and emptiness, that I’ll never do something or achieve something or have a job that I really *really* want. It won’t happen. I can keep trying and working and hoping. But, you know, in all reality, it won’t happen. It’s my fault for only being drawn to stupidly popular things.

Returning to the family home at Christmas, minutes had passed with us all under the same roof before I felt my comparative inferiority: he’s right and more clever (though a buffoon) and I’m rubbish.

As kids he made me feel unremarkable, not very good, beatable, missable.  And he still does, without being cruel, without even trying.  I wonder, often mid-conversation, how is he so certain about everything?  I know nobody who is or appears to be as constantly sure of themselves, and of everything. 

Our realities are so different.  Our ideas of ambition and success and relative middle-class poverty.  We disagreed on the pay hike for MPs, which my brother thought would be a good incentive to attract a higher quality of person, not that I voiced my disagreement that strongly, if at all.  His London-centric concept of salaries is extremely different to my embattled, embittered provincial one.  I would probably accept 20 grand and considerably less stress right now, maybe even lower.

I don’t warm to him easily, that involuntary smuggy smarminess to his manner; it’s cringeworthy and weird and embarrassing.  The way he speaks to his kids in those leading questions with that ingratiating intonation at the end: “do you think that is sensible or is it silly?

All the same he is so much better at life than me.  He is one of those people for whom, from a distance, life seems to have been a breeze.  Education (besides a little bullying), partner (Week One of university), education, career, marriage, mortgage, two beautiful kids: all before turning 30.  Bosh.  Job done.  What’s the problem?  Don’t make a meal of it.

Me, on the other hand: not a fucking clue what I’m doing or where I’m going.  Completing patronising application form questions for crap, low-wage jobs, trying to work out if I have a low enough opinion of myself to return to a call-centre next week.  Hounded by guilt for infecting my girlfriend with miserable angst and resentful at my paranoia about every pound spent, my inability to treat her or plan anything.

A chink was shown in his armour one evening.  His wife confided to my girlfriend that he fears failure, and sat alongside each other on the sofa, I opened up a general knowledge quiz app on an iPad.  He squirmed with discomfort.  “No, I’ll be rubbish.”  The man devours historical non-fiction, is pretty much at the top of his profession, a very smart and knowledgeable man.  He feared getting questions wrong on an app.  It amused me, briefly, especially when he got one or two questions wrong, and tried to shrug it off in just the same way Dad does when he answers a questions out loud on a television quiz show, and gets it wrong.  I love it when that happens too.

My Dad and my brother share the same sense of certainty in everything.  They are extremely seldom wrong in the confines of their own heads.  Certainty and always being unambiguously correct about everything is a virtue which they hold extremely dear.  Ambiguity or nuance does not exist for them.  Apparently not one of life’s major winners, maybe it’s natural for me to be more relaxed about these things.

Relaxing about everything doesn’t come naturally though.  When my brain spins during unsettled nights; when I’ve tried placing myself on football pitches and seeing if a game magically starts happening around me devolved of my conscious brain (I love dreams of playing football), but it hasn’t happened; when my brain has whirred through a highlights selection of my football playing days (happens embarrassingly often but is nice to do – disappointingly few goals); when I’ve visited that serene, remote pond, surrounded by snow but not iced over, and envisioned myself sitting on a nearby bench as an older man; when I’ve tried gliding high and unaided over a canyon; when I’ve remembered the few lovely moments over Christmas spent with his kids; when I’ve worried massively about money and the lack of a career and my inability to provide for myself, let alone anyone else; and I’ve angsted about the future and thoughts of ever being a father; then he appears, his well-fed belly bulging, grinning like a buffoon, spouting something he believes is witty.

But just look how much better he is than you, look how much more he has of everything that is meaningful.  Hahaha.

little dreams of me

On the nearby mountain, or steep hill.  It’s a big peak at least. They call it a mountain and it’s called a mountain, but it isn’t really, you know, a mountain.  It’s not the Alps: rugged, snow-topped and majestic.  It’s Wales.  Pretty enough, but still just Wales.

It’s also besides the point.  I’m there anyway.  Perhaps I’m just sitting and worrying, or thinking. Or walking about.

When suddenly a plane appears, very low and very close.  It’s an old Nazi war plane. It’s quickly clear it’s in trouble, before crashing to a controlled, surprisingly unspectacular landing. I rush over to help, much to derision of other walkers and passers by who don’t seem moved in the slightest. ‘But the war is over!’ I argue, annoyed by them.

I find an old lady in the cockpit. I shake her gently by the shoulders and make sure she’s ok, then I back off.  She slowly climbs out of the cockpit and wanders off down the hill without so much as a thank you.

*

Standing at my childhood bedroom window, I see it’s wintry and bleak outside.  The whole landscape has changed in a possibly post-apocalyptic fashion.  It’s virtually blank now, white.  No back lawn, no forest, not a single tree.  Clusters of small white, feral beasts scuttle around, sniffing for scraps.  I drop a glass off window ledge and it smashes upon impact with the ground.  I lean out and look around the corner, hearing something loud and monstrous and massive.  I see the edge of what must be the expected biblical tsunami which rapidly engulfs everything: the building, the room, me. I wake up drenched in sweat.

*

I’m scared and nervous again about work, my finances, paying rent. Those parameters you’re used to seeing your bank balance being between, generally, month to month: they are ever shifting, down and down. My cushion, my safety net, is ever slender. Is it worth the worry, the pressure, the angst and the self-doubt? Should I seriously consider getting a job again? But I’m not very employable anymore, 4 and a half years out.  And a redundancy before that.  Should I at least try? Look? Even a part time thing to give some much needed cash injection?

Dreams are always more vivid on the nights of the week when she isn’t lying next to me.

*

In a mazy tall block, I’m being officiously controlled by a boss or a leader, or leaders.  He or she or they want to put us in individual physical boxes and push us down steep chutes to somewhere. Nobody knows where. There is urgency and panic and desperate need to escape. Which eventually I do, after a leap and a fall, and a guilty sense that I’m deserting colleagues. I’m running away, relieved, things around me fading, waking up.

sorry sperm

It’s late afternoon. I’m bored, restless and a little sad, walking aimlessly through an old neighbourhood, weaving around sprightly cheerful old people walking towards me.

I reach a place I don’t ever remember seeing before: a clearing beyond some suburban housing, a copse of trees which reaches high and majestic into the sky.  Behind them a more developed forest, the beginning of something. Leaves lie thick, deep and moist on the ground, like it must be autumn. I run up a small incline, mildly wary that this might be a hideout for local gangs or bored kids. None are here and there’s no evidence of them, no litter or debris.

There’s rustling though. In the half-light I see, is it a hare? It seems very large. I can’t figure out if it’s stalking or being stalked, until I catch a glimpse of an even bigger hare. This seems ridiculous, something out of Alice In Wonderland. I don’t believe myself and walk on, arcing back around towards suburbia, marvelling at the shapes in the high treetops.

The leaves and ground underfoot here is boggier than I recall. Turning over my left shoulder I see two figures, a man and a woman, children on their shoulders, all wearing some kind of protective boiler suits. Have they been bog snorkelling? Sounds and looks fun. The children laugh.

I follow them inside their perfect house – light blue walls, red door – and look around the place.  It’s unruly but somehow ordered. I befriend the boy and scare the mother. I tell him not to speak or play with me here, I could be anyone, and go back downstairs to his mum. I’m not sure where his father is. I leave the house and wake up.

*

Lately in waking life I have been thinking more about children, the idea of having them, being 33 in the next month or so, and of never having them. My best friend and his wife are pregnant with twins.  They will soon be moving into a new house in a commuter-belt town.  Added to this, I really enjoy the time I spend with my nephew and niece, 6 and 3.  Their lack of any real care or stress about anything is infectious and freeing and I begin to miss it when I haven’t seen them for a couple of months.

I’ve thought about it and discussed it here before.  But perhaps it was my best friend’s news – delivered in a stunned tone on a telephone call shortly after the first scan (twins!)) – and pondering it more since.  That has made me think again. Everyone is growing up, getting married, buying houses, having babies, getting dogs, seemingly growing reconciled to their careers. That’s what Facebook says anyway.

At almost 33 I am more nervous about paying my rent each month than I ever have been; more uncertain about a career path or lack of one as I have ever been. Freelance work is slow at the moment, all regular jobs look unrealistic, unobtainable, over 4 years out of a regular full-time workplace. I feel unemployable. I am worried.

Unlike my girlfriend – who is incredibly supportive – I am not hung up about the whole marriage thing, but do regularly hanker for a dog, holiday, travel, a nice house, a solid supply of good quality wine; and occasionally (often privately) think of children.

Having children is like experiencing a tremendous thunderbolt of love. I see that. I get that. You want to provide them with the best of everything and give all you can.

While I am indefinitely nervous about paying my rent every month, ‘big progress’ of the kind gently encouraged by parents, doing ‘life things’ on any level, it all seems impossible or hamstrung at best.

Everybody lives life differently, yes. It’s unhealthy to compare yourself with others (though equally impossible not to), yes.

And yet all this stuff can’t help but add up to feeling at least a little inadequate, at least a little failed.  Sorry sperm.

great expectations

A question re-illuminated by events of a couple of posts ago was this: how far should your expectations of a female (or male) be adjusted?  Or, how far should they be toned down?

For a romantic idealist who wears their heart on their sleeve, they’d prefer to be completely wowed by a female.  At least for a brief period.  Sure it’d be unlikely to last forever, but initially they would want that early phase of fuck me, she’s a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

But what if that never happened?  What if there wasn’t ever that exhilarating romantic spark with anyone?  Maybe you could only feel that in an unrequited way, with dynamic females who had been snapped up a good few years ago.  And maybe part of the reason those females are so dynamic, magnetic, electric, is because they’ve pretty much always had the attention.  They’ve never spent much time sitting alone in rooms wondering if they’re fundamentally unattractive.

So what if you met someone and she didn’t exactly knock your socks off?  What if she was just fine to be around?  If it was enjoyable hanging out together, and doing a little more besides.  You weren’t deluged with other offers, so why not?

Should that be good enough?  Should you allow yourself to make that compromise?  Because that is what it feels like.  Or should you go on searching in hope of someone who wows, someone you may never find?

Would it be wrong to lazily throw in the towel like that?  Or is that precisely what people do all the time?  They settle.  Especially if one party is a dominant and decisive, and the other is lazier and doesn’t have the nerve or inclination not to settle.  Because it works well enough.  I absolutely have a certain couple in mind here.  I have no idea how he landed her at all.

It’s arguable that the longer you go on bitterly kicking down the picky single lonely path, the less likely you will find someone you’re wowed by.  More likely perhaps that you’ll gather additional neuroses about how you’d like A Person to be, and collect further constipating baggage through constant over-analyses.  By not thinking: fucksake, just do something you prick.

A friend suggested that, if you asked many unmarried couples whether they’ll go on to get married and have babies, a good proportion would just shrug and say they don’t know; they’re just having an ok time as it is, see where it goes..  There’s no need to overthink it if there aren’t any real fireworks.  Don’t make a drama out of it.  If you find you’re having an ok time, go on having an ok time.  Take each game as it comes.

Therein lies a beauty of being relatively casual.  If someone else should happen by, it’s not illegal, there’s no til-death-us-do part sin, especially if you’re both on the same page about things.

But romantic idealists beat themselves up.  They’re such soft pricks they’re nervous about other people liking them; even ones they don’t know if they like much.  Although a kooky inverse vanity can inflate that impression.  There might not be as much meaning involved as you think.  They might behave the same with any guy and feel exactly the same as you.  They might be a level-headed, mature, sensible person, which is a dangerous assumption to make, but you never know.  They might exist.

It’s still unsettling, all the same.  Now stop cupping my face like that, quit with those soppy doe eyes.  Please don’t like me too much; I’m a prick.  Everyone knows it.  Here, I can even prove that by being honest and saying I’m not really that into you.

Although perhaps I could convince myself into being into you, in time, maybe, perhaps, possibly..

No, I couldn’t.  Shut up.